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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

After shaky success, Eagles plan for PSU

The latest game was an atrocity: 31-percent shooting from the floor, 11-of-26 shooting from the free-throw line and 17 turnovers.

It capped a weekend in which the senior leader, Marc Axton (19 ppg), shot 4 for 20 and scored 18 points over two games.

Yet Eastern Washington University’s men’s basketball team won both of its Big Sky Conference opening games, setting the stage for an early-season conference showdown. The Eagles (5-10, 2-0) face Portland State (11-4, 3-0) tonight at 7:05 at Reese Court.

“This game is definitely huge,” said EWU sophomore forward Matt Nelson. “It’s one of those games early in the season where people on the outside might not realize how important it is, but we realize how important it is. It’s one of those early games you look back on as maybe a turning point in the season.”

PSU was picked to finish second behind Eastern in the preseason polls.

“We will have to play our best game,” third-year Vikings coach Heath Schroyer said. “We have our work cut out for us. They are very talented. They play extremely hard. One thing that has impressed me about them over the years is they know how to win big games.”

Both teams have defeated Cal Poly handily and lost to Gonzaga – PSU falling 98-80 in the season opener in Spokane and EWU losing 83-70 at the Arena.

The Vikings have lost six straight and nine of 10 against Eastern. Last year’s games were decided by eight points in Portland, five at Reese.

The Vikings, who finished last in the conference last season, are riding a seven-game winning streak.

“They returned all their guys; that definitely helps,” Axton said. “They’ve been tough in the past, they just had some unlucky breaks. We struggled against them down there and here. If we didn’t hit some outside shots against them (last year) we would have lost. They’re athletic.”

Axton couldn’t find his stroke last weekend when the Eagles held off Northern Arizona 65-61 and Sacramento State 44-41.

“Earlier in the year, from a statistical perspective, if Marc didn’t score we didn’t win,” Eagles coach Mike Burns said. “We had a weekend where Marc didn’t score and we were still able to win two conference games. That was huge for our confidence. We don’t need an individual to do it, we can do it collectively.”

The Vikings also do it collectively – and with a much more veteran roster than the Eagles.

Seamus Boxley, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, leads the Big Sky in scoring at 19.1 and is second in rebounding at 7.1. He is also second in shooting at 60 percent.

Blake Walker, a 6-5 senior forward, adds 13.4 ppg and junior guard Jake Schroeder scores 10.1. Reserve Antone Jarrell, a 6-6 senior, adds 9.6 ppg.

New starter Scott Morrison, a 6-11 freshman center, averages 6.3 points and 4.7 rebounds.